The Stages of Emotional Development From 0 – 5 Years

By Habiba Kudrati

A child's development includes both physical and emotional stages. We frequently concentrate on the stages of our child's physical development and have little insight or understanding about the importance of our child's emotional development. Understanding the stages of your child's emotional development will help you to make sense of your child's behaviour. It will help you to think about and acknowledge how your child might be feeling at a particular time and enable you to help him/her to work through what has been experienced. It is important to remember that each child develops in his/her own unique way depending on personality and at different rates from each other.

The following are guidelines for the emotional developmental stages of children:

Babies (0 – 1 Months)

  • Baby is adjusting to life outside the womb
  • Crying is a normal phenomena. The baby not only cries for feed but also to feel secure. This security is experienced when the mother holds the child close to her breast. So, at times, we do observe that the child keeps on demanding for feed; it is not because the child is hungry but to feel secure.
  • The baby needs to feel calm, safe and secure, and no other person than the mother who can make the child feel this; so there is no substitute for the mother.
  • For mothers who bottle feed their babies, they can occasionally hold them close to their chest, and even while feeding they could hold them near their breast and bottle feed.

2 - 3 Months

  • Shows a wide variety of feelings and expresses emotions through smiles frowns, body movements, gurgling and cooing.
  • Comforted by being fed and cuddled.
  • More settled – beginning to settle into a more regular routine and happy to be changed.
  • Recognizes familiar people and likes to smile at them.

4 - 6 Months

  • Beginning to show fear around unknown people
  • Able to laugh and make happy sounds
  • Calmed when picked up and on hearing familiar voices

6 – 12 Months

  • Strong reaction to strangers and clings to parents. Please do not force your child to socialize, they will eventually. Just because they cling to you, doesn't mean they will lack socializing skills or not be smart.
  • May start to resist when not happy to do something
  • Enjoys attention
  • May soothe him/herself with familiar toy or thumb sucking
  • Emotional expressions are increased to include fear and sadness.

12 – 18 Months

  • Beginning to show negative emotions and may resist naps, refuse some foods and may have tantrums
  • Begins to understand turn taking games
  • Needs comfort and reassurance from parents
  • Afraid of being apart from parents/caretakers and cry when they see parents/caretakers leave.

Two Years

  • Shows extreme behaviour - dependent/interdependent, very aggressive/calm, and helpful/stubborn.
  • Gets angry when stopped from doing something that is unsafe
  • Temper tantrums are common and they tend to cry, scream, kick, bite and can be rough with other children
  • Needs parent/teacher/caretakers to tell him what is right and wrong
  • Easily distracted because of short attention span
  • Has little concept of sharing – plays alone alongside other children
  • Likes routine and any changes are upsetting
  • Beginning to show feelings of sympathy, pity and pride and aware of praise and smile
  • Becoming more independent
  • Afraid of noises, trains, thunder and flushing toilets. Separation from parent, especially at bedtime is still frightening

Three Years

  • Play is the main activity of this stage and is important in the development of identity and confidence
  • Demonstrates a balance of happiness and contentment
  • Continues to be self-centered and may feel responsible for everything that happens
  • Ability to bargain but not to reason
  • Distraction techniques still work
  • Less frustrated and angry

Four Years

  • Enjoys jokes and silly games and loves showing off
  • Play still very important
  • Can still demonstrate stubbornness, aggression, kicking, biting and blaming others for their naughtiness especially older siblings
  • May compete with parent of same sex for attention of parent of opposite sex
  • Needs parent for support and reassurance

Your child needs lots of care and attention and your time. Time invested in their preliminary years will bear fruit when they grow to be teenagers and adults. Children are like soft clay, they will get molded the way you want to, so be careful with your words, actions and behavior.